Last fall, Mathew Arthur found himself looking for a new place to live.
He had been living with his two brothers in a house in Vancouver, but they decided to move back to their hometown of Kelowna, B.C.
Arthur, a graphic designer, considered finding something a little smaller, perhaps a bachelor suite.
But then he had an even smaller idea: making a home in the back of a van for up to a year as a way to simplify his life and test the limits of small-scale living.
He found a 1987 Dodge Ram van on Craigslist for $500, added a few hundred dollars in upgrades to add a bed, shelving and a sink, and parked it in an alley on the east side of Vancouver nearly five months ago.
The setup leaves him with about 40 square feet of space — about half of which is taken up by his bed.
“It started really just as an exercise in small-scale space, just to see if I could live a little bit more of a simple way, day to day,” says Arthur.
“I never intended it as a political or social or ecological experimentation, but the interesting latent function of living this way is I’m learning a lot of lessons about my footprint.”
Arthur used an industrial cabinet and some carpentry skills to install shelving, and he made a small stool out of wood. He has a small refrigerator, a stereo and spot for his Macbook. Before moving in, he sold most of his furniture, put 10 boxes in storage and took three boxes of belongings with him into the van.
He works from inside the van, at coffee shops or in the offices of his graphic design clients.
A 20-metre extension cord runs power from an outlet in a nearby house, and Arthur says he doesn’t have much trouble finding places to shower, bathrooms to use or kitchens to cook in.
Instead of relying on the comfort and insular nature of my own home, I’m forced to go out and find things to do and people to be with,“ he says.
Initially, Arthur’s plan was to live in the van for an entire year, starting Jan. 1.
However, he says he was recently accepted into graduate school and isn’t sure he wants to start a master’s program while living in a van. He may end a few months early in September, though he hasn’t yet decided.
Arthur also planned to post regular updates throughout the year on his blog though he hasn’t posted anything since late February.
Several months in, Arthur says he’s learned a lot about what it’s like to live in such a small space and get by with less stuff around him.
The experience has also reinforced his opinion of Vancouver as an expensive place to live.
“For a city that touts its planning culture and its sustainable initiatives, it’s unaffordable and there’s no communal space,” he says.